Tandem Biking in the North Country

“Click. Click. Click. Click.”  It’s a distinctive, satisfying sound when the bike shoe clips on to the pedal.  Most of the time, though, we only need to hear two clicks to signal readiness for action and connection to the bike.  For the Crusher EX, though, Ryan and I ride a tandem mountain bike from 616 Bicycle Fabrication.  Our first Crusher (it was called the HAMR back in 2018) was a learning experience, and if you want to read about our journey to becoming tandem owners and the struggle-bus that was our 2018 HAMR, you can find the link to the Crusher blog that we wrote here : https://crushergravel.com/details/stories/doing-hard-things/





For 2022, we registered for the EX version of the Crusher 40 mile course.  Through the years, we have run this race with a changing cast of characters, some of whom do this race exactly ONCE with us and then never bike with us again.  However, Cara and Darren Bartle have stuck with us and we have become a team trekking through the UP wilderness.  They joined us again this year as we rolled out on a cool Sunday morning from Koski Corners to start what we expected to be a 50 mile journey.  It was a lovely morning, especially on the Peshekee Grade.  The beauty of the UP never ceases to amaze us, and we feel lucky when we have the chance to get out and enjoy it.


After the Peshekee, we settled into the gravel riding and the miles flew by.  We’ve been on these roads many times now, and there is something satisfying about a remote gravel road in the middle of nowhere being “familiar.”  We found ourselves on Snowmobile 5 through Wildcat Canyon, and rolled through the hills and swamps, looking for moose.  We took a break at the Yellow Dog River, marveling at the low water levels.  One couldn’t fall in the Yellow Dog this year.  The heat was rising as we left the shoreline and headed up into the hill country that would bring us to Mosquito Gulch.  Cara and Darren went ahead on their capable mountain bikes while Ryan pushed and pulled the tandem through the gulch.  There was a breeze that kept the bugs down, and compared to previous years, the Gulch was a mild challenge.  Or maybe we’ve been through it so many times that we aren’t surprised by it anymore?


After the gulch, we came out on the Mulligan Plains, which is such a special place.  It was hot and sunny and we were noticing our food reserves were going to be merely adequate at this rate.  We stopped at the stump and I foraged handfuls of blueberries.  


As with all things, riding a tandem gets easier with practice.  If we had a montage of the “learning experiences” of the past 5 seasons, it would include burying the front tire in an enormous mud hole, falling into the Yellow Dog River, falling over going uphill many times, standing at the side of the trail yelling at each other about decisions made involving whether to ride or walk Mosquito Gulch, and resetting the chain innumerable times after dropping it.  At the same time, we have learned how to communicate, read each other and read the bike. This year, 8+ hours in the saddle, and we had no “learning experiences”.  No chain drops.  We looked and felt like we did this thing every day.  The drivetrain replacement from our friends at QuickStop bike shop didn’t hurt. 

The Crusher is an annual reset for us.  A day in the woods, working on our communication and having a common goal of accomplishing something hard. 

It’s almost Open Enrollment season for the Marketplace, and it’s the time of year where we all get confused about what kind of health insurance we should have.  I am writing a series of articles to answer questions about why Direct Primary Care works well with certain kinds of health insurance.  This third article is about Health Savings Accounts.

HSA (Health Savings Account)

An HSA is a Health Savings Account, and it is sometimes offered to people who choose a high deductible health insurance plan.  I wrote a separate post on high deductible plans.  An HSA gives you the opportunity to save pre-tax money in a savings account that grows interest tax-free.  There are annual limits on what you can put in (2022 is $3650 for an individual and $7300 for families).  When you take out the money to pay for health care expenses, that money isn’t taxed either.  In the world of personal finance, this is a fantastic deal.  At the same time, the benefits of an HSA tend to go to people who have the extra money to save in an account like this.  However, an HSA is a great way to reduce the amount of risk that you are taking on with a high-deductible insurance plan, because you don’t lose this money at the end of the year.  It is your money, and you can save it for when you do have an expensive year and are going to meet your deductible.  I like to think of an HSA is a form of self-insurance for catastrophes.  Low deductible plans don’t offer HSAs because you are asking the insurance company to take on more of the risk for your health insurance costs, and so you don’t get access to this deal.

FSA (Flexible Spending Account)

An FSA is a Flexible Spending Account.  I am including it here because it causes confusion when discussing HSAs.  An FSA is sometimes offered by your employer as part of a health insurance plan.  If you are getting your insurance off the Marketplace, you don’t have access to an FSA.  FSAs are nice because they are also a savings account where you can put in money tax-free and take it out tax-free to use for qualifying medical expenses (there are long lists online of what is allowed).  In my opinion, FSAs are annoying because you have to estimate the amount of money that you want to put in an FSA at the beginning of the year and then you have to spend it or you lose it.  As someone who has had to use leftover FSA money to buy first aid kits that I didn’t need because I didn’t know that glasses were an allowable expense, I find them less useful than an HSA, but they can pair well with a lower deductible plan to cover co-pays, dental work and…glasses!

Can I use HSA or FSA money for Direct Primary Care membership fees?

This can be a thorny issue.  I am neither an accountant nor an expert on the many rules from the IRS.  From what I have read, FSA funds can sometimes be used for DPC membership fees.  It can be up to the employer to decide if it is an allowable expense.  My best recommendation on the use of HSA money for Direct Primary Care membership fees would be to ask your accountant.  Even if you can’t use your HSA funds for your DPC membership fees, you can save that money basically forever, so you could wait to use it until you need to pay for an MRI or a knee surgery! 


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